“I Make Music that I Want to Hear”: An Interview with Odd Nosdam

Ben Grenrock speaks with Odd Nosdam about the early Anticon days, his notorious sound, and cLOUDDEAD.
By    April 27, 2018

As the world around us becomes ever more integrated with the synthetic, it’s only natural that our music will follow. The blips and the bloops; the wubs and dubs; the gnashing susurrus of industrial indigestion that we—or at least I—love so dearly are the aural equivalent of light pollution, bleeping and bleeding out of a culture whose circulatory system looks increasingly more like circuitry than veins. It’s times like these that we need producers like Odd Nosdam to remind us that there are still alternatives.

For two decades, Nosdam has produced some of the most organic-sounding hip-hop beats ever created. An improbable sonic gardener, out of the machinery at his disposal—be it SP, MPC, or tape deck—Nosdam grows forests of vinyl crackle and tape hiss. Beats bloom spontaneously from his artistic substrate whenever the fickle Oakland sun deigns to shine. The simple beauty of an artful loop, the supple bed of a single, sustained organ chord—these are the identifying markers of genus Nosdamus.

It’s not that Odd Nodsam’s music evokes some sort of Mononokeian glade of flowers; often, it’s quite the opposite. Drums thud down like the Iron Giant’s footsteps. Melodies cut in as trebly as The Brave Little Toaster’s prepubescent pips. But that’s precisely what I mean: even when they conjure a metallurgical dystopia, his beats are imbued with a warm, definitely human soul. He’s the wizard stuffing hearts between tin ribs.

Perhaps best known for his work with experimental hip-hop group cLOUDDEAD, over the years the Anticon co-founder’s has developed this unique sound effortlessly, following his innate creative impulse to conclusions unequivocally his own.

His new beat tape, Lost Wigs of Ohio, is a wholesale resurrection of forty beats from one of the producer’s most fecund periods. It contains all his hallmarks, those specific to that time and those that have endured. Politically, technologically, and musically, the years between 2000 and 2004 seem like eons ago. But the perspective gained from looking backward can be invaluable in attempting to make sense of the present. —Ben Grenrock

Lost Wigs of Ohio is a comprised of songs from 2000-2004. What prompted you to drop it now?

Odd Nosdam: For years most of these tunes were long lost. Around 2012 I started digging through my DAT tapes and hard drives, searching for cLOUDDEAD material. Rarities, instrumentals, alternative versions [of songs], unreleased shit, etc., with the intent of finding enough stuff to put together a cLOUDDEAD box set, [to be called] bOXDEAD.

While digging for ’DEAD tunes, I kept coming across random MPC2000 beats that I’d forgotten about. Most of these beats I remembered putting together, but one in particular, “direct,” when I came across it, I didn’t—and still don’t—recall its origins. It turned out to be the tune that sparked Lost Wigs of Ohio, a sort of sequel to my third beat tape and first full length for Anticon Records, No More Wig For Ohio.

The main reason for dropping Lost Wigs now is because, after six years of digging, compiling, restoring, reanimating, sequencing, and mastering all this shit, I feel it’s finally ready. The other reason why I’m doing Lost Wigs now is I’ve had a folder on my computer for the last decade and any time I’d come across an MPC beat, I’d put it in that folder.

In the late 2000s pre-Beat Scene era, while I was making stuff like Level Live Wires, which is extremely dense music with all kinds of fucked up shit going on, I found that Lost Wigs era music to be boring. I wasn’t making music like that at all. I wasn’t interested in just simple drums and loops. I was getting more into the manipulation of sound. But eventually—three, four years ago—I started getting back into that raw stuff. I found myself wanting to go back to that Lost Wigs material a lot. I thought it’d be cool to get a ton of that shit together. Like, an hour’s worth of a grip of raw instrumentals, most of which have never been heard.

Personally, I love stripped down, simple hip-hop beats. The more popular trend tends to swing the other way—with hi-hat fusillades and synths layered up the wazoo—the more I find myself craving just a steady, interesting drum beat with pointed variations and an atmospheric melody to set the mood. What is it about minimal beats that make me, and I’d assume you as well, so addicted to them?

Odd Nosdam: There’s something about repetition, loops. I love the effect that repetition can have, especially the repetition of a solid beat with a strong melody. I can’t speak on any of the popular trends, so I’m not sure why so many folks sound so similar to each other, or why so many just happen to sound like Dilla. What I can say is I make music that I want to hear. Music to live with.

Walk me through your process when you sit down to make a beat.

Odd Nosdam: I find records, skip through and/or listen to them, sample bits, loop breaks, check for the head nod and chill factor, and keep it moving.

How has that process evolved over the years? What’s similar or different about making a beat now than when you went to make a beat during the time Lost Wigs was recorded?

Odd Nosdam: Lost Wigs was my MPC2000 days. Before then, between 1998 and 2000, I was rocking the Dr. Sample 202. Eventually I moved on to the SP1200. Lately, I’m in Pro Tools and [using] a few pieces of outboard gear: Space Echo, Distressors, and a Tascam 8 track.

Over the years you’ve managed to cultivate a sound all your own. When I hear those dusty, sustained organ chords and lumbering drums, I instantly know I’m listening to a Nosdam joint. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of that sound? Does it come more from a specific emotion you channel, or more from you choice of gear?

Odd Nosdam: Sure, the genesis of my sound is definitely emotion, [combined with the] sample source, the gear, and a desire to simply make shit. Lost Wigs was put together with samples lifted off found records that got chopped and looped on an MPC2000, then mixed to DAT through a Tascam cassette 8 track. Rookie style.

When you moved from Cincinnati to Oakland, did the change in environment impact your sound at all?

Odd Nosdam: It’s difficult to say how much moving across the country affected my sound, but it was a very inspiring time, there was a lot of motivation to work hard.

I was twenty-five when I moved to Oakland in 2001. It was a whole new world here in California. For the first six months I lived in an apartment with Jel, Doseone, and WHY? At that time, the biggest impact on my music was definitely being around those three guys and the rest of the Anticon crew. All of us being in the same area with a common goal: establishing Anticon as a legitimate record label.

How did it feel making something as unprecedented as that first cLOUDDEAD album?

Odd Nosdam: For me it was all about discovering ways of expressing myself through sound. Stumbling across new techniques of looping and layering sounds. Just learning how to make music.

In particular, with our collaborations like Greenthink and the first cLOUDDEAD album, we were very interested in experimenting. You know, like, “Try this, try that, as long as it sounds cool to us, who cares?”

Was it a similar process for cLOUDDEAD’s second album, Ten?

Odd Nosdam: The only thing I recall remaining similar was Yoni and Adam’s writing process. Other than that, Ten’s process was totally different for various reasons. We’d already moved to California. The first album was out and doing well, especially in Europe. I got my first computer. Yoni and Adam also got a computer and decent microphones. So we had much better equipment to work with. We’d done three tours and two Peel Sessions. Anticon was proving a force to be reckoned with. We definitely felt more confident in ourselves and our creative process.

Is there one specific thing you’d point to as your main source of inspiration?

Odd Nosdam: Unless it’s the sun on a clear day, inspiration usually isn’t this tangible thing that I can point to. Inspiration comes and goes. Of course, discovering and listening to good music helps. I also DJ on a regular basis, so I often find that I’m feeling inspired the day after a fun gig.

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